Danger & Art

In a place where the dense population renders life disposable, I survived countless life-threatening situations in Nepal. I remember the fierce sun, gusty winds, and jingling bells on the horse I rode through rocky Himalayan valleys. The echoes of our yelling and laughter on jeep rooftops while bouncing up narrow mountain roads. Spontaneously, I trekked long distances without even a map through monsoon rains. And there was also one very scary night on IV drip in a local hospital.

I also found myself living my dream of helping others much sooner than I thought would be possible. It has become clear that teaching art may be a necessary predecessor to art therapy in these communities. In a remote village called Sirubadi, I taught art to local children who had never seen or used colored paints before. We covered mudhouse walls inside the house where I stayed, using banana leaves as palettes, and hand signals as communication. In Lumbini, near the Indian border, I designed and painted outdoor signage for a rehabilitation center, specializing in care for HIV/AIDS patients with addiction issues.

More details from these two months in Nepal and a lot of photos will be posted soon.


In addition to the thesis follow-up, I would also like to use this space to set intention for a relevant dream for my future.

While experiencing great clarity and focus on a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Thailand this summer (Suan Mokhh), a vision appeared strongly to me. The synthesis of years of work here in the US, I realized it is time for me to return to my Indian heritage. HIV/AIDS is an undeniable global crisis, and though Africa is being highlighted for its staggering statistics, India is also struggling to simply spread awareness.

I have been fortunate to gain very specialized knowledge of the experience of individuals living with HIV/AIDS, while being an art therapist to infected children, adolescents, and women in the New York area. I feel a strong duty and purpose in applying this knowledge in work with these populations, in India. My dream is to build a center offering art therapy, a safe space for children and women with HIV/AIDS in India.

I will continue to post elaboration on this goal in all forms here, and I hope to receive feedback and form connections to make this dream possible.

Thesis Images

Image 1: A collage of images of the women in Uganda
(through the Bead for Life organization, more info available at http://www.beadforlife.org/).

Image 2: A closeup of the beads made by women in Uganda living with HIV/AIDS,
using strips of recycled magazine paper.

Image 3: Closeup of paper beads made by women living with HIV/AIDS in NY
(art therapy clients).

Image 4: Full image of giant paper bead (about 48” x 24”), an ongoing collaborative piece created in art therapy group sessions. Instead of rolling this bead like the smaller ones, the clients decided to leave it open to display their choice of words and images corresponding to the three sectioned themes of past (purple), present (green), and future (red).

Image 5: Closeup of border on giant paper bead, where clients have begun to hang the smaller paper beads, alternating beads made by the women in Uganda with those created by the women here in NY.

Scholarship Application

The following accompanied a scholarship application, to be granted $2,000 for this research in the form of supplies. It summarizes my work thus far, which is in progress so feedback is greatly appreciated!

As a second year MPS candidate in Art Therapy at SVA, I have been extremely fortunate to work with two unique populations during my graduate studies. My first year clinical internship was at a residential skilled nursing facility for children/adolescents living with HIV/AIDS, and my current internship is at a health center providing services to women with HIV/AIDS and their families.

Of the 33.2 million people living with HIV worldwide, 15.4 million are women (UNAIDS Epidemic Update 2007). Most turn a deaf ear to the stigmatized global issue of HIV/AIDS, overwhelmed by the epidemic which needs that much more attention. Though awareness is gradually increasing, many still associate the illness solely with homosexual men or third world countries. Furthermore, medical advancements extending lives have generated apathy, minimizing the tremendous number of ongoing physical and emotional challenges those infected face everyday.

Being around children, adolescents, and now women living with HIV/AIDS, I have realized that each of these individuals has an incredibly rich and layered story to tell, though they struggle to be accepted or genuinely heard. Often discarded by society because of their diagnosis, they in fact are among those who would benefit most from interaction with others. In facilitating these healing connections, my thesis research explores how art therapy can provide opportunities for containment and exchange of the stories of these women living with HIV/AIDS.

In initial group sessions, the clients were introduced to a project inspired by women in Uganda who are also living with HIV/AIDS. The women in Uganda create paper beads out of recycled strips of magazine paper, making and selling jewelry internationally in order to empower themselves and eradicate poverty. After hearing the stories of these Ugandan women, the clients were then provided instructions and materials to make paper beads themselves. While rolling each bead the women shared their personal stories verbally within the group. The clients also collaborated to create a giant paper bead, covered in collage of words and images representing three themes universally expressed in their stories: past, present, and future (see images in following post).

In ongoing groups, the women will continue to create paper beads and jewelry with the beads, work on the giant paper bead, and also create a variety of artwork, letters, and possibly videos to send to the women in Uganda (as I am in touch with the founder of the Bead for Life organization). I think that this exchange is crucial in facilitating their healing, in forming a reparative exchange after contracting a life threatening illness. Most importantly, this exchange can remind these women that they are not alone in the issues and themes that they deal with each day.

The accompanying budget includes ongoing expenses identifiable for this project, including bead making supplies, jewelry making supplies, storage, postage to/from Uganda, materials for the exchange of art/letters/etc., and costs for display and documentation of the artwork created.

This project is the culmination of a great deal of planning and research, and thus far the results demonstrate that international art therapy truly has potential to heal suffering and change lives. With presentations and publication of this work already being requested, I feel confident that this scholarship would assist in reaching the true potential of this exchange, ultimately benefiting women in both countries. Working on this scale before even graduating ensures that my deep passion for international art therapy will continue to inspire similar projects in my future career in the field.

This research is humanistic, as observational gathering of qualitative, phenomenological information occurring both verbally and in the artwork during sessions. Consent forms were signed and there are no known emotional risks to the participants. Process and progress notes, response artwork, and supervision consistently accompany and support this ongoing work with the clients.

World AIDS Day

December 1st is World AIDS Day and I find myself overwhelmed with thoughts to share.

To begin, I should introduce that I am a graduate student for Art Therapy, at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. My first year clinical internship through this program was with children/adolescents living with HIV/AIDS. By coincidence, my second year and current internship population is women living with HIV/AIDS.

Despite the mourning of those lost to the epidemic, and the challenges in battling the current global crisis, I know I am one of many setting intentions forth for change today. In remembrance, I feel deeply motivated and empowered to share my passion for this topic in this forum.

Some may see the acronyms HIV/AIDS and stop reading, but for those who continue, there are incredible amounts of updated information available now. Specifically about women, of the 33.2 million people living with HIV worldwide, 15.4 million are women (statistics from UNAIDS AIDS Epidemic Update 2007). Many do not know that this problem no longer only effects gay men, or that very real issues exist outside of Africa. Furthermore, many who have heard that recent advances in medication are helping many live longer with the illness, do not see beyond these strides. Those who are fortunate enough to have medication have a tremendous ongoing repercussions (both physical AND emotional) which still effect them each day.

To put yourself into the mindset of someone living with HIV/AIDS takes a great deal of empathy, and I am just beginning to understand what it might be like. Can you imagine waking up each morning with fear of the battle raging within your own body? Can you imagine having to take a very strict regimen of medications with no future guarantees? Can you imagine the pain of memories related to how you might have contracted the illness? Can you imagine the complex and intense fears, anxieties, expectations, memories, hopes, dreams, and experiences you might have if you were living with HIV/AIDS?

I realize some may wonder if my soapbox doubles as a collection box, but at least for now, it does not. In all honesty, I am finding this process revealing about incorporation of what most deeply moves me into my graduate thesis, and any/all feedback and greatly appreciated. And in essence, I am merely sharing my insights on HIV/AIDS and hope you can find value in my words.